The European Union’s top general has warned that not reviving a military mission to implement an arms embargo on Libya would mean the EU has failed a test of its new geopolitical ambitions.
In an interview with Politico, Italian General Claudio Graziano, the head of the EU’s military committee, also declared he had never seen “real war so close to the door of Europe” in his decades-long career. He cited the conflicts in Libya, Syria and North Africa’s Sahel region as examples of the tumult in the EU’s neighbourhood.
He suggested, Europe currently faces the most challenging security environment he has known as a military officer. “In my long career, I’ve been many times in the field, in operations. I have not seen real war so close to the door of Europe,” he said.
“Libya is the bottleneck of Sahel and one of my priorities is also to build up a European consensus … [to] make more effective our training mission [for security forces] in the Sahel,” he said. “We need a Europe more assertive in the arena.”
Graziano argued that even during the Balkan conflicts of the 1990s, when war raged inside Europe, the threat to the Continent was not as complex or as serious as it is today. He said the Continent faces a series of interlinked security challenges to its south — a “triangle of instability” composed of terrorism, illegal migration and failing states.
On Monday, EU foreign ministers will discuss how to follow up on last month’s international conference on Libya in Berlin, where European powers sought to put on a display of unity after years of divisions over the conflict.
On their agenda is how to revive Operation Sophia, the naval mission in the Central Mediterranean tasked with overseeing the arms embargo and fighting human trafficking. The mission has been unable to deploy ships since March last year due to a decision pushed through by Italy’s then-Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini.
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell and many EU governments favor restarting the mission. Borrell hoped that Monday’s meeting of foreign ministers would agree to revive the EU’s military mission, which stopped deploying ships last March after Italy said it would no longer take in migrants rescued at sea.
Graziano, who also serves as Borrell’s military adviser, suggested a decision to revive Sophia should be straightforward for the EU as the mission already exists, it already has a mandate to implement the arms embargo and that embargo has U.N. backing.
On Monday as foreign ministers struggled to convince Austria to lift its objections in a blow to efforts to uphold a U.N. arms embargo on Libya.
Italy is ready to restart the sea patrols, its vice foreign minister said last week, but diplomats said Austria was still blocking, based on its position that people rescued on the high seas should not be taken to Europe.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas urged the EU to agree on a mission, a day after a senior U.N. official warned that the arms embargo aimed at curbing fighting in Libya was meaningless because there is no one to enforce it.
“It’s about the security of Europe,” Maas said.
On Sunday, Borrell criticised Vienna, although he did not mention Austria by name, saying it was unacceptable that a country with no navy could hold up an EU sea mission.
Borrell needs the backing of all 27 governments to proceed, provoking frustration among ministers.
“I cannot understand that a country like Austria at the end of the day says ‘no’. We have a European responsibility,” Luxembourg’s Jean Asselborn said.
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